[Begijnhof Diksmuide, photographed in 2004 by Willemdd, source: Wikimedia Commons]
There was also a trend of beguines who moved from outside the city and had moved there to find work collected in groups according to where they had grown up. Specifically female immigration to the cities was quite common in the 12th and 13th century Low Countries, so the high number of houses within the great court beguinages that were named for the home villages of their inhabitants should come as no surprise.
It was also common to see sisters living together. Other familial relationships could also be found: aunts and nieces, cousins, or even mothers and daughters (or granddaughters). Many of these daughters and granddaughters may not have been or intended to become beguines when they moved to the beguinage. Many beguinages allowed new members to bring their underage children to live with them, or even to give birth there if they were already pregnant.* A not insignificant number of these children went on to become beguines themselves.
[Begijnhof, Amsterdam, photographed in 2011 by Jensre, source: Wikimedia Commons]
The beguines as a collective were once or twice accused of having sex with each other and a few individuals were punished for it, but exactly how many of their friendships were romantic and/or sexual in nature remains unknown. Certainly some of them had to have been. These communities fostered a wide variety of close relationships among their members, which in some ways was their great strength. Their lower level of official organization was countered by the strong bonds among their members.
*It is likely that this mostly applied to women who had gotten pregnant through marriage, but it is likely that in cases where there was no proof, the mother’s word was believed. A woman who fell pregnant after having become a beguine was generally removed from the community, but most beguinages allowed for her to be readmitted after a year if she showed good behaviour. She was presumably allowed to bring the child with her.
**Supposedly these were theological in nature, but it would be surprising if they stuck entirely to that subject. More on this here.
***Of particular note here is Walter of Coincy who, I kid you not, uses grammar to prove it his accusations against them. It’s worth quoting here: “They join hic with hic without discrimination, like grammar does; but Nature condemns such a coupling. …Nature rejoices, it seems to me, when hic couples with haec: but hic and hic bewilders Nature. She beats her fists and wrings her hands.” [Found in Simons, Cities of Ladies, pg. 124]
Simons, Walter. Cities of Ladies: Beguine Communities in the Medieval Low Countries, 1200-1565. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.
Simons, Walter. “‘Staining the Speech of Things Divine’: the Uses of Literacy in Medieval Beguine Communities.” In The Voice of Silence: Women’s Literacy in a Men’s Church, edited by Thérèse de Hemptinne and Maria Eugenia Góngora, 85-110. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols Publishers, 2004.